Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Current Events—Part 2

An Ongoing Saga
Years of Punitive and Retaliatory Treatment 
for Speaking Up

A previous blog page titled “Current Events—Part 1” introduces and describes the material I will be posting on this and a several following blog pages. It a lightly edited and rewritten (and slightly abridged) version of a formal report (internally called the “Faculty Annual Report”) I and every other faculty member at Boston University submit every year. It is supposed to survey the highs and the lows, the goals and the projects, the activities and the achievements that transpired during the preceding calendar year. The particular report these excerpts were taken from was filed in March 2014 and covers the 2013 calendar year.

Since the report is supposed to be read by the entire chain of command between the faculty member submitting it and Robert Brown (the Boston University President)—in my case, Paul Schneider (the Chairman of the Department of Film and Television), Tom Fiedler (the Dean of the College of Communication), and Jean Morrison (the Boston University Provost)—for the past six or seven years I have used its “Additional Information” section to list and describe dozens of instances of professional misconduct and unethical behavior that I have witnessed or been subject to in each of the years in question.

Unfortunately, in all of my years of filing it, I have never once received a substantive or meaningful response to what I have reported from a single administrator. I strongly doubt, in fact, that anyone at any level has even bothered to read what I wrote—and I know for a fact that no one has taken it seriously enough to act to investigate and correct the problems I have described. Not one single BU administrator has even asked to meet with me to learn more about any of these things (and as I describe on other pages of this blog, my Dean, Tom Fiedler, has told me outright that my reports are of absolutely "no interest" to him and will never be acted on). That is why the initial paragraph in this year’s report, like the initial paragraphs in many of the previous years’ reports, alludes to the lack of action and response. It's the BU way. Deny, ignore, mock, dismiss, pretend there aren't any ethical issues or reports, and if you receive one pretend you didn't. Replying to any of them would only compromise a BU administrator's "head-in-the sand," "see, hear, and say no evil," "I'm-in-the-clear-because-I-know-nothing" position. Every single time I've brought up these issues in personal meetings with these administrators, they have told me, to a man, that none of these things ever happened (almost always prior to launching into a stream of invective and personal abuse against me for having filed the reports). I am mentally ill, I am lying, I am making everything up (despite hundreds of pages of documentary evidence and scores of independent witnesses to corroborate each and every detail, year after year). The denials are then followed by a stream of insults against my character and morals, as in a meeting not too long ago which my Dean (Tom Fiedler again) chaired, where my department Chairman (Paul Schneider) launched into a "Why do you continue to work at BU anyway?.... Are you just here for the money?" attack on me, in front of a group of others, as the Dean sat there and smiled his approval. (But I'll stop with that fairly recent memory. There has been too much personal abuse over too many years to report it all, on this blog or elsewhere, and the memories of the shouts and name-calling and attacks on my morals are just too painful for me to re-live.) No doubt the "deny, deny, deny defense" is what the BU lawyers have advised, and at Boston University the Silber-trained lawyers (many significantly still occupying the same positions of power in the Robert Brown administration that they did throughout the John Silber reign of terror, even this many years later, this many years of institutional corruption later) rule, and ethical investigations unfortunately take a back seat.

But I don't want to give a completely misleading impression. Even in this cesspool of ethical corruption, willful blindness, and administrative stone-walling and arrogance, not everything is doom and gloom. As you will see below, I also list a few accomplishments I am extremely proud of achieving in the past year. There are a few things BU administrators can’t stop me from doing no matter how hard they try.— Ray Carney

* * *

A general note about the report that follows: What follows is only a summary presentation. This memo continues and supplements the “Additional Information” entries I have appended to the previous seven years of my Faculty Annual Reports. Many of the issues and much of the punitive and retaliatory treatment I describe has persisted for many years—and been explained and documented in more detail in previous annual reports and in other memos I have submitted. I would note that though I have made numerous requests for fair treatment (or for an official accounting of the reasons this unethical and unprofessional treatment has been allowed to go on) in previous reports and memos, I have never received a single, substantive, meaningful reply to any of these submissions from my Chairman, my Dean, or the university Provost—and that the unprofessional, unethical, and unfair treatment has gone completely unacknowledged, uninvestigated, and uncorrected by the Boston University administration. (In fact, most of it has simply been denied, even though there have been numerous witnesses and I have provided abundant documentation to support what I say.) The ethical violations and professional misconduct have extended over almost a decade at this point.

During the 2013 calendar-year reporting period:

I have been punitively forced by my Dean and Chairman to carry a significant course overload (as I have for many years in the past). I would also note that in previous years, as directed by the department Chair, on more than one occasion I also have also been told to teach the classes of a faculty member on medical leave as additional course overloads—over and above this ongoing course overload. During this entire period of time (including the times I taught the courses of another faculty member), I have never once been compensated above my base pay for such overloads and additional assignments, and in recent years have not even been compensated at same level as far more junior colleagues who do not teach overloads—but instead have had been penalized by my Dean in my evaluations, my pay, and my perquisites. Some of the reasons, and administrative rationalizations, for the punishments I have received are given below, but many others are listed in previous Annual Reports and I will not be repeating them here. [To the blog reader, see earlier blog pages for lists of other administrative punishments and acts of retaliation against me for speaking out about ethical issues I have observed.] I have strenuously objected to this clearly unfair and discriminatory treatment in numerous memos and emails to both my Dean and my Chairman, but not a single memo I have written has been replied to in a meaningful or substantive way. This is an institutional disgrace.

With respect to teaching: I created and taught (as I have every year without exception for the past ten years) an entirely new course in the reporting period. I also significantly changed the content of the other six courses I taught. I do this as a standard policy to keep the courses fresh and to offer each years’ students new material.

In September 2013, I received a request from several students to offer a completely new course. I accommodated the students by announcing a new course I am now teaching [in spring 2014], the first time this subject has been taught at BU. I have frequently done this sort of thing to respond to students’ requests, where they perceive gaps in department offerings.

In another attempt to improve the quality of the course experience, I moved all (or nearly all) of my film screenings outside of class-time. The only exceptions were for works simply not available for viewing outside class. This makes my film study classes the only ones in the department that actually involve performing my teaching duties (i.e. actually teaching and interacting with students) for the entire scheduled time of the class. Other film courses in the BU Department of Film and Television radically shorten the number of actual faculty-student contact hours, by having students sit in the dark watching movies for two, three, or more hours a week, during so-called “class time,” with the instructor frequently not even present in the classroom. This practice cheats the students of their tuition dollars and I refuse to participate in it.

I have also changed the class structure and organization of my courses in a number of radical ways, experimenting with a range of innovative teaching methods in all of my courses, teaching them in fundamentally different ways from those employed by other professors in my department, and most other college courses in general. My syllabi include a few details, but the radically experimental nature of the courses can only be understood by experiencing them in person. One aspect of the changes is that I have done away with both lecture and discussion formats and adopted a Socratic method, in which I ask the students hundreds of questions about the material we are studying in a programmed sequence in the course of the semester, and base their final grade largely on their responses. I have completely changed the screening process (beyond what I described in the preceding paragraph) when I show short film clips and excerpts in class. In terms of critical methods and practices, I have collapsed the distance between the student and the actual film experience by removing all theory and abstraction from classroom discussion (including removing all psychological, ideological, "film theory," and sociological considerations from the discussion). Those forms of analysis are forbidden and other analytic methods are put in their place. I also systematically replace all forms of “static” understanding (via metaphor, symbol, abstraction, etc.) with “temporal” and “flowing” and “moving” forms. And I have restored the activity of “performative authorship” to texts that are often treated as de-authored cultural or ideological emanations. But, to repeat, the method simply cannot be summarized in a paragraph or two, which is why it takes even the best students an entire semester (and often longer than that) even to begin to understand it (such is the power of bad habits and weak understandings cultivated by bad teachers in other courses and internalized over the course of a lifetime of weak education). It is not too much to say that I have developed essentially new ways of viewing films and of thinking and talking about them, and brought them into the classroom experience to attempt to fundamentally change the ways my students encounter and think about art.

Additional experimental pedagogical innovations: Another innovative aspect of my teaching is the enormous emphasis I place on written and oral expression. This is all the more necessary in the light of the Philistine attempts of my colleagues to replace “verbal literacy” with so-called “visual literacy” in the Freshman writing sequence (as if the two things were equivalent, as if the two things had anything to do with each other)—and, even more damagingly, by their decision to eliminate complex extended writing assignments from their own courses.

In an experimental vein, I carried the focus on verbal consciousness to an extreme in two courses I taught in the fall of 2013, in which I required every student to submit a paper in each and every class meeting. Many students, and more or less all of the best ones, reported back to me that the course was the most “difficult,” “intense,” or “challenging” one they had taken in their entire college career, and said the amount they learned was commensurate with the work-load. I’d note that doing this took scores of hours of extra work on my part (I read, commented on, and returned each student’s paper to him or her at the start of the next class without fail), which is why most teachers would not even consider having this sort of requirement, but it is the best possible way to develop students’ thinking power. Consciousness cannot precede expression. Forced, monitored, critiqued, careful, persistent acts of speaking and writing are the best (and often the only) ways for students to develop their thinking. Many in the current generation have the deficit of a lifetime of verbal inarticulateness (i.e., non-thinking) to overcome.

I continued to speak out against the destructive effects of basing faculty evaluations and pay on student course evaluations. This is completely out of hand in my own department, where student evaluations are used, in effect, to create a “beauty contest” that rewards faculty members who play to the lowest common denominator (e.g., showing the junkiest movies and minimizing course requirements) and who award the most unjustified praise and highest grades to students for doing the least work. This practice is the single most destructive policy in the film program, and its lamentable consequences are seen at all levels of the pay, promotion, and faculty retention process—driving down academic values, gutting the meaning of faculty evaluations, and rewarding faculty who have the lowest grading standards, make the least demands on students, and play to the crowd in the classroom.

I continued to speak out against the massive grade inflation that goes on at all levels, which is dishonestly done by faculty members in my department to “buy” favorable student evaluations. Grade inflation does more than destroy the meaning of grading. It cynically misleads students about their true aptitudes and abilities.

The way the pay system is linked to the student evaluation system also leads to further forms of corruption, like the wide-spread cheating and “gaming" of the course evaluation system by selected faculty members that I have described in other memos. (More memos that have been completely ignored by BU administrators.) Who wouldn’t deceive students about their abilities and rig the evaluation process when they are told that their pay depends on it? Answer: Only the most highly-principled and ethical members of the faculty. 

Meanwhile, throughout the reporting period, as has been the case for at least ten years, I continued to hear numerous reports from dozens of undergraduate students, graduate students, and teaching assistants about their deep sense of disappointment and frustration with a significant number of Department of Film and Television full-time faculty members who blatantly (and in the view of the students and teaching assistants, shamelessly and outrageously) neglected their teaching, mentoring, and advising duties. For ten years now, students have shocked me with their accounts of faculty members who did little more in a semester-length course than have their teaching assistant turn off the lights and push the “Play” button on a DVD player while the nominal "teacher" went down the street to have a beer or went back to his office to check his email; about faculty members who failed to read or grade the papers students turned in; about faculty members who surreptitiously delegated all or almost all of the teaching duties they themselves were supposed to perform to completely untrained and unprepared first-year teaching assistants; about faculty members who threw temper-tantrums in class or in their offices if a student politely and deferentially questioned the reason for anything he or she was told to do; about faculty members who insisted that film production students systematically and repeatedly “dumb-down” their work to make it less subtle, less intelligent, more “entertaining,” and more like a Hollywood movie; about faculty members who publicly insulted and abused students who attempted to defend the value of their personal visions or artistic principles; and about faculty members who didn’t show up for their own classes (or repeatedly came into the classroom significantly late and left their classes early). To indicate the flagrancy of this last item, during the current reporting period I was told by more than one student about a specific Professor words to the effect of: “If Professor [X] was in class a total of an hour all semester long, I’d be surprised.” It was not meant as a compliment. The students in the course in question felt deeply betrayed and cheated.

For many years now, I have reported these pedagogical betrayals of trust (as well as many other forms of egregiously unprofessional, unethical, and irresponsible behavior on the part of a select number of film studies and production teachers) in a series of confidential and private conversations and reports, staying within the administrative chain of command, relaying what highly responsible students have told me (the reports not surprisingly almost always originate with the most hard-working, intelligent, and sincere students, who are the ones who feel the most frustrated by being denied the educations they are paying so much to receive). In my reports, I have simply asked that the situation be looked into and discreetly investigated for the sake of the students who are, at least potentially, being cheated of their tuition dollars. In response to many years of these written and oral reports, I can state categorically and without exception, I have never received a single substantive or meaningful reply, from my Chairman, my Dean, or any other Boston University administrator. Not even a cursory and pro forma "thanks for the information." (In one particular meeting with my current Dean, I was told in fact that my reports were of "no interest" to him whatsoever and that he would definitely not be doing anything in response to them.) Insofar as the egregiously irresponsible behavior continues to be spontaneously and independently reported to me by highly responsible and trustworthy students about the same faculty members, year after year, and semester after semester, I have every reason to believe that nothing I have reported has ever been acted on in even the smallest way by anyone in the BU administration—beyond penalizing me for being (in the words of the same Dean I quoted above) “a troublemaker” for having filed the reports in the first place. My Dean's dismissal of what I told him and his calculated insult were in fact the only responses I have ever received—unless I count one other even more ominous and threatening kind of “response"—the one described in the next paragraph. To my complete surprise, and despite the fact that my own student evaluations are glowingly positive, after I began filing these reports, I myself started being called on the carpet by both my Chairman and my Dean. In an obvious attempt to punish me for my reports about others, and try to shut me up, to my astonishment, I became the object of their criticism.

In a meeting with my department Chairman in February 2013, as I have in many previous years, I strenuously objected to his cynical and disingenuous “cherry-picking” of isolated words or sentences submitted by one or two students in a sea of overwhelmingly positive comments by scores of other students about my teaching to justify lowering my evaluations and negatively impacting my pay. I pointed out the absurdity of treating the comments of students who failed to show up for class meetings, who did not perform the course work, or who were awarded low grades as being equal in value with the comments of students who attended all of the classes, performed their work superbly, and received favorable grades. The Chairman’s dishonest use of this kind of “selective quotation” to negatively impact the pay of faculty members he has decided in advance to torpedo (me in this case) is an institutional disgrace.

It goes without saying that the preceding clearly retaliatory policy cannot be carried out year after year by one individual alone. The Dean of the College of Communication has, for many years, encouraged and condoned this deeply cynical and intellectually fraudulent “teacher evaluation” policy as a way of selectively prosecuting faculty who speak their minds (and of selectively rewarding faculty who are willing to use his brain to do their thinking for themand, as previously noted, to gut the grading system to suck up to students).

"But, wait, there's more" department: For a number of years my classes have been punitively scheduled to prevent or radically curtail my ability to attend faculty meetings. This continued during the reporting period. I was assigned a seven-hour teaching block running from 2 in the afternoon through 9 at night, which limited me to 30 minutes (or less) of free time in the middle of it to wolf down supper. This deliberately put my schedule in conflict with the time that faculty meetings (all held at 4PM in the afternoon) are scheduled, making my attendance impossible (even on the occasions I am willing to submit myself and steel my emotions against the abuse of being criticized, yelled at, or told to shut up by colleagues—certainly not a favorite use of my time).

I guest taught four hours of classes [for another professor] in March 2013. [This was still more additional uncompensated activity above my regular teaching load, but in this case, I was glad to do it.]

I continue to be prohibited from discussing "controversial" intellectual or critical issues in my classes (with my Dean in the past having deputed students covertly and secretly to spy on my teaching and report back to him about any “violations”). So much for academic freedom at BU.

The text of Ray Carney’s most recent "Faculty Annual Report" (submitted in the spring of 2014) continues on the next blog page. See "Current Events—Part 3."